April’s book of the month was Children of Eden by Joey Graceffa. I’ve been following Joey’s YouTube channel since around 2014, so I was more than excited to add his first foray into the world of fiction to my read list. I’ve been sitting on this book for quite some time now, and I decided enough was enough: time to pick up another dystopian novel. Because I’ve been following Joey for so long, I was able to pick up on aspects of the story that I wish I hadn’t. As much as I enjoy Joey’s content on YouTube, I have to say that I was partially let down by his novel. I’d give it 3/5 stars.
Children of Eden follows Rowan, a secret second-child who grew up hiding away in her home in a society with a one-child policy. The society is fairly advanced with eye scanning technology that can verify the identity of the person based upon the surgical lenses that are implanted in the official citizens. Rowan’s well-off family tries to get her an illegal pair of lenses that function well enough to give her another identity, but things go wrong, and she’s launched into a life or death scramble to find safety in a world where second children are sought to be eliminated. She tries to find safety between other second children and her brother’s friend, Lark.
The first thing I noticed reading this was Joey’s writing style. There were moments of beautiful description, but I found the majority of his style uninviting. There are adverbs everywhere. If I had a dollar for every adverb, I’d be able to pay rent for the next two months at the least. To be fair, the reason I’m noting it with distaste is due to Stephen King’s writing advice in On Writing, which I agree with for the most part. An adverb here or there isn’t too distracting, but they’re everywhere and take away from the power of proper word choice. Another thing Joey does is tell repeatedly instead of showing what’s happening. There are only two times I can remember this choice making sense within the story, and the majority of the other ones (I lost count) can be solved by just having Rowan say whatever Joey’s telling us she said. Also knowing Joey’s past of having not getting into a college writing program, I recognize that he likely wouldn’t have known this almost universal lesson. It still detracts from the quality of the novel, however.
The other part of Joey’s style that irks me is how clear his agenda is behind writing the novel. He criticizes the human race’s destroying of the land and its resources —which to some extent is good, we are destroying the planet— but it’s so blatantly pointed in the way he pins it to Rowan it doesn’t make sense. A girl who has never escaped her house and has only read about the past have such a strong opinion of a world she isn’t connected to doesn’t make sense. At points, she becomes a mouthpiece for his views, like one moment when she criticizes humans having previously eaten animals. (Again, why would she care? She’s never seen an animal. Maybe it’s for that reason; since they’ve been wiped out and she can’t see any? Weak motivation, but that’s as far as I’ll buy into it.) If you don’t know much about Joey, he’s a passionate vegan, and in a more recent video, he told (his boyfriend) Daniel’s nephew that meat was bad. Sigh.
This immaturity of Joey’s transfers to Rowan, who acts younger than her age at some points. She’ll lash out at random times and remain calm when it would make more sense to lash out. Rowan’s character isn’t focused, and I never knew what to expect from her. I wound up finding the characters surrounding her —Lark, Lachlan, and even Rook— more interesting and developed. The side characters seem to have more clear motivations and defining for the majority of the book until Rowan has to step up and take some kind of control of her destiny. It was a little late in the book, but when she does start to step up, I found the story a lot easier to read.
At this point, it sounds like I have more bad things to say than good, but I did wind up liking the story in the end. I never found myself wanting to shelf it, but it was a bit forced in the beginning. I couldn’t figure out what was the inciting moment or reason why it was that point in Rowan’s life that things would change besides some details after she explores the world outside her home. The world kept me involved as more pieces started coming together about their form of government is shady and the different groups that are joining together that disagree with it. Even the way fashion works to identify where different people are from in the rings and even what schools the children go to.
Something else that Joey did that I found to be pleasant surprises was the little details to the characters that I don’t find in many other places. I haven’t read any other books where a character in the main cast, Lark, has seizures. Additionally, Rowan’s brother Ash has asthma, which even plays into the desperation of one scene later on in the book. I wouldn’t be the judge on how accurately he depicted these conditions or not, but it’s nice to see some attempt at diversity from the usual straight, able-bodied main characters that riddle most popular fiction. Rowan is also depicted as bi/pansexual with interests in both Lark and Lachlan, using the trope of the love triangle but twisting it. Initially, I was annoyed by this addition, until I recognized that Rowan has only grown up with her family, where she likely would associate a kiss as a form of appreciation or affection. Maybe that’s me reading into the situation too much, but I believe it validates the inclusion of the love triangle. Lark and Lachlan seem to be more confused by the act than Rowan is.
I already own the sequel, Elites of Eden, which I would’ve pursued getting even if I hadn’t had it already. My main interest in the book is in its world and what would become of it if the (spoiler-revealing) plans went through, along with the twist ending. I didn’t expect to be left on such a cliffhanger that gave me a pleasant surprise, but I look forward to reading the second book. As much as I found the book a pleasant read, it’s still clear to me that it was likely published due to Joey’s millions of fans willing to buy it. There’s a couple of editing errors as well throughout that stood out, but only one made me struggle to understand what was happening. For now, I’m going to let Children of Eden sit aside so I can focus on a book that has a more substance to it. For May’s book of the month, I’m reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.